Mens Team

Nigel De Jong: The changing role of midfielders, tackling and City fans

Nigel De Jong takes on Robin Van Persie at Vincent Kompany's testimonial.
‘Oh when De Jong... Goes sliding in,’ sang Manchester City fans in tribute to the tough tackling displays of Nigel De Jong.

A combative midfielder, he was the enforcer at the heart of Roberto Mancini’s Premier League title winning squad, who ensured the likes of David Silva and Yaya Toure could flourish.

CITY+ | Free to Cityzens until football is back

His all action style was hugely popular with fans, but football changes and eight years on from the crowning glory of the Dutchman’s time in Manchester, you’ll find Rodrigo adopting a new approach as City’s midfield anchor.

For De Jong, it is a natural development of the role he expertly fulfilled under Mark Hughes and Mancini.

“The nature of the game nowadays requires a defensive midfielder who is more of a playmaker,” says the 35-year-old.

“Especially with how teams like City, Liverpool and Barcelona are playing. They all have a defensive midfielder who is more of a playmaker. But that’s because of the coaches.

“Pep [Guardiola] is one of the best coaches in the world and he requires a defensive midfielder who is more of a playmaker. That’s why it’s different to when I was playing at City.”

Tackling – so integral to De Jong’s game – is also not quite the same.

You are less likely to see players thundering into challenges in the way that so endeared him to the City faithful.

WATCH: The Derby: De Jong, Lescott & Richards reunite

It begs the question; would he be deployed in another position if he was restarting his career in 2020?

“It’s certainly getting more difficult to tackle with all the cameras on you,” he explains.

“I’m not saying it's dying because it is still part of the game, but it is harder.

“I’d still be in the same position, trust me!

“I’ve got confidence in my abilities and qualities. You have to be confident about your game as a player.”

Having arrived at City in January 2009, De Jong is one of a cohort of hugely popular players who helped the Club establish itself at English football’s top table.

He departed in the summer of 2012 with Premier League and FA Cup winners’ medals to show for his efforts, but it was precisely that – effort – which means to this day, he is held in high regard by fans.

And for the man himself, his relationship with supporters remains one of his fondest memories.

“It meant a lot and it still means a lot,” he adds.

“I came back for Vinnie’s [Kompany] testimonial after seven years and to come out and get the same love I had back in the day meant a lot.

“I was a player who played with a lot passion and I think the fans could see that in themselves. They could relate to the player I was.

“I love Manchester and I love the fans. We had three great years.”

View all club partners